E3 Evolutions

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Mobile and handheld gaming grab the spotlight at E3, while movie-based video games continue to dominate.

Handheld games were the talk of the 10th annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in May, as Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) unveiled the final production design of the PlayStation Portable (PSP), and Nintendo shot back with its own DS handheld. Sony's PSP is expected to provide 10 hours of game play, eight hours of music, or two-and-a-half hours of movie footage. The final price point of the PSP was not revealed, but SCEA President and CEO Kaz Hirai confirmed the unit would be released in Japan by the end of 2004 and in the U.S. in first quarter 2005. Electronic Arts (EA) announced its support for the handheld game system, delivering four titles-NBA Street, Need for Speed Underground, NFL Street, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour-with an additional 10 to 12 to follow within the year. Motion picture studios also are on tap to support the PSP, although specific studio names were withheld. Sony also announced it would reduce the price of PlayStation 2 to $149 in North America immediately.

Nintendo's DS features dual screens that display information such as maps and 2-D and 3-D renderings. The DS will be backward compatible with GBA games and offer a built-in microphone for voice recognition. The unit also will be able to connect with other DS handhelds up to 100 feet via Nintendo's proprietary service and to the Internet and other devices via WiFi. The company plans to launch the DS under a new name later this year in Japan and the U.S., with European and Australian launch dates set for next spring.

Microsoft focused on a new wave of Xbox and Xbox Live games, including Halo 2. Voted "Game of the Show" by computer and video game magazineGame Informer , Halo 2 is set to hit shelves November 9, 2004. Xbox Live soon will offer new features including voicemail, old-school arcade games, and video mail. EA Sports titles also will be available.

In addition to its Xbox Live and PSP support, EA scores big with titles such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (GBA, GC, PC, PS2, Xbox) and GoldenEye 2 (GC, PS2, Xbox). The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth, based on events from all three films in the motion picture franchise, offers up stunning graphics.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Sega of America teamed up for The Matrix Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game scheduled for release this November. Developed by Monolith Productions, the game covers the time period following The Matrix: Revolutions motion picture. Players can manage and choreograph their own fighting moves. Players also can program their own Matrix code to create weapons, clothing items, and abilities.

Capcom celebrates the 15th anniversary of Street Fighter this year with the release of licensed merchandise and new games. The Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, available for PS2, includes Hyper Street Fighter II, a blend of five Street Fighter II games, plus arcade hit Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Players can mix and match characters from different games to create their own dream matches. Also new is the Mega Man Anniversary Collection featuring 10 games for PS2 and Nintendo GameCube, as well as five games on the Game Boy Advance system. Other new titles include: the newest installment in the Resident Evil series, Resident Evil 4, for GameCube (winter 2004); Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas with Buena Vista Interactive for PS2 (fall 2004); and Shadow of Rome for PS2 (winter 2004).

Plug 'N Play games got a boost with Radica Games Ltd.'s Arcade Legends. Classic video games from the '70s, '80s, and '90s are brought to life in Sega Genesis Space Invaders and Tetris. Multiple games are built into each controller.

The cell phone game market also is on the move. The NBA, Jamdat Mobile Inc., and Verizon Wireless announced the launch of NBA 2004 available exclusively on Verizon Wireless' Get It Now service. The game includes all 29 NBA teams and player rosters from the 2003-2004 season, and provides NBA fans with complete control on both ends of the court. Jamdat also signed a worldwide publishing agreement with GameHouse Studios, a division of RealNetworks, Inc., to bring game titles Collapse!, Collapse! Strategy, Bounce Out, and TextTwist to mobile phones. Additionally, Jamdat introduced Neopets Coco Roll for wireless. Featuring Neopets color graphics and a musical soundtrack, the game is based on global youth entertainment Website Neopets.com. The game and its Website are being promoted on inserts in McDonald's Happy Meals sold at participating McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. and Canada.

In his annual E3 speech, ESA President Doug Lowenstein emphasized that in the last 10 years the interactive entertainment industry has been the fastest-growing entertainment sector in the world. Today, North American console, PC, and handheld game industry revenue is $10 billion, including hardware. Worldwide revenues of game hardware and software top $25 billion, not including online and wireless. In addition to citing mobile and handheld gaming as the wave of the future, Lowenstein also said that he foresees continued expansion of the overall game market, as well as the evolution of community-based gaming.©

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